PDF Archive

Easily share your PDF documents with your contacts, on the Web and Social Networks.

Share a file Manage my documents Convert Recover PDF Search Help Contact



1594424 .pdf



Original filename: 1594424.pdf
Title: Winslow Homer's "The Veteran in a New Field": A Study of the Harvest Metaphor and Popular Culture

This PDF 1.4 document has been generated by PDFplus / Atypon Systems, Inc., and has been sent on pdf-archive.com on 20/02/2013 at 03:37, from IP address 140.233.x.x. The current document download page has been viewed 6087 times.
File size: 17.1 MB (27 pages).
Privacy: public file




Download original PDF file









Document preview


Winslow Homer's "The Veteran in a New Field": A Study of the Harvest Metaphor and Popular
Culture
Author(s): Christopher Kent Wilson
Source: American Art Journal, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Autumn, 1985), pp. 2-27
Published by: Kennedy Galleries, Inc.
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1594424
Accessed: 30/11/2010 13:12
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at
http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless
you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you
may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use.
Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at
http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=kgi.
Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed
page of such transmission.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.

Kennedy Galleries, Inc. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to American Art
Journal.

http://www.jstor.org

WINSLOW HOMER'S THEVEIERAN INA NEW FIELD:

A Study of the HarvestMetaphor and Popular Culture
KentWilson
Christopher
The fierytrialthroughwhichwe pass ...
AbrahamLincoln'

Fourscore and seven yearsago ourfathersbroughtforth
on thiscontinent,a new nation,conceivedin Liberty,and
dedicatedto thepropositionthatallmenarecreatedequal.
Now we areengagedina greatcivilwar,testingwhether
thatnation,or any nationso conceivedandso dedicated,
can longendure.3[author'semphasis]

N SUNDAY, JULY 21, I86I, hundreds of people

traveledfrom Washington,D.C., to Manassas,
Virginia,to witness the first majorbattleof the Civil
War. In a festive atmosphereon the hills above the
announcedbattlefield,Congressmenandgeneralswith
theirwives incrinolinegownseagerlyawaitedtheheroic
exploitsof the UnionArmy.However,to theastonishmentandhorrorof the spectators,the battlewhichhad
begun with picnicsand paradesendedwithdeathand
destruction. By the end of that chaotic and bloody
afternoon, soldiers and spectatorsalike were fleeing
from the carnageof Bull Run. The nation'sfierytrial
hadbegun.
Forthe nextfouryears,overa halfmillionsoldiers
diedandmanymoreweremaimedandwoundedon the
nation'sbattlefields.The magnitudeof the fightingwas
almost beyond comprehension.At AntietamCreekin
the autumnof 1862over five thousandsoldiersdiedon
a Sabbathmorning.In thefollowingyearatGettysburg
over eightthousandmen "gavetheirlastfullmeasure"
in threedays of hellishfighting.
In the fall of 1863,AbrahamLincolntraveledto
Gettysburgto commemoratethe dead. For Lincoln
and many others, the war was a great sacreddrama
played upon the battlefieldsof America.It was, in the
ancientbiblicalsense, a test of America'ssacredcovenant, "testingwhether[this]nation,or any nationso
conceivedand so dedicated,can longendure."2When
viewed in this context, the warwas a necessaryriteof
passage,a kindof nationalbaptismwhichwouldpolitically and spirituallycleanseAmerica.
Like a baptismalliturgy, Lincoln's Gettysburg
Addressis imbuedwith dramaticjuxtapositionsof life
and death. Standingbeforethe bloodiestbattlefieldin
Americanhistory(deadhorseswere stillrottingon the
fields),Lincolnrepeatedlyevokedimagesof birthinan
unlikelybutaptexpressionof the paradoxesof war.
CHRISTOPHER
KENT WILSON,assistant professor of art

at MiddleburyCollege,Middlebury,
Vermont,haspublished
severalarticleson Americanart,includingone entitled"EngravedSourcesfor Quidor'sEarlyWork"in theNovember,
ARTJOURNAL.
He is pre1976,issue of THEAMERICAN
sentlycompletinga bookon JohnQuidor.
The American Art Journal/Autumn 1985

In his brief address (so short that photographers

were unableto shoota picture),Lincolnnotonlycommemoratedthe dead but also looked forwardto the
politicalandspiritualrebirthof America.Thepowerof
his speech was in its distillationof the centralissuesof
life and death, consecrationand regeneration.It was,
in short,a politicalreformulation
of theChristianideals
of sufferingandredemption.
Many others also soughtto findjustificationfor
and meaningin the horrorsof the war.LikeLincoln,a
numberof artists, writers,and theologianscreateda
varietyof dramaticandpowerfulimagesto sanctifythe
war. As an overwhelminglyProtestantnation,it is not
surprisingthat in raisingthe war effort to a sacred
crusade,the two sacramentsof the Protestantchurch

-

baptism and holy communion - were central im-

ages. In his address,Lincolncalledfor a spiritualrebirthof the nation,butit was the theologiansof theday
who specificallycalled upon Americansto sanctify
theircause in a new baptism- a baptismnotof water
butof bloodwhichwouldcleanseandpurifyAmerica's
institutions. In justification of the war, the church
historian Philip Schaff declared, "this very baptism of
blood entitles us to ... a glorious regeneration."4Simi-

larly,HoraceBushnellrepeatedlyemployedthe metaphor in his Civil War sermons and addresses.In a
particularlyvivid example, Bushnellextolledthe importanceof sacrificialbleeding:
Had it not been for this commonbleedingof the States,
[duringthe Revolution],it is doubtfulwhetherour Constitution could ever have been carried ... [but]we had not

bledenough,as yet, to mergeourcolonialdistinctions
and
makeus a propernation.Ourbattleshadnot beenupona
scale to thoroughlymassourfeeling,or gulfus in a commoncauseandlife ... Thematterwantedherewasblood,
not logic, andthiswe now haveon a scalelargeenoughto
meetournecessity.Trueit is bloodon one side,andblood
on theother- allthebetterforthat;forbadbleedingkills,
andrighteousbleedingsanctifiesandquickens.5
The necessity of national bloodshed which Bushnell

declaredis morethanmerebloodletting.Accordingto
3

Fig. I. Winslow Homer. THE VETERAN IN A NEW FIELD. 1865. Oil on canvas, 24x38". Collection, TheMetropolitanMuseum ofArt,
Bequest of Miss Adelaide Milton de Groot, 1967.

.'.F*a:??
-e

_? -LC _pr**ul--_l-?--r they touch it, a great strength, they give to the earth, as
I
it takes their blood, a new inspirationfor all brothers in
learning for long ages to come."6
II
Speaking to individuals, the majority of whom
would return to the soil for their livelihood, Bushnell's
i
i
.r.
reversalof the Anteus myth carriesgreatpower. Through
II
::p?
the soldiers' bloody sacrifices, the soil of America had
i...?
?:
-I: i
literally been enriched, but it had also been metaphori..:????-?? .1*?ili
1
cally readied to nurture the seeds of the newly unified
democracy.
I
t'I
?!
For therehas beenall the whilea grand,suppressedsentiE
i::
r.i
f;
1;
.
mentof countryin thegeneralfieldof the rebellion,which
is burstingup alreadyintosovereigntyout of the soilitself
i
.... the seeds of a truepubliclifeareinthe soil,waitingto
growapace.7

-....+

i

??--.,.

-: ,.1

96

FT

?c;

?l:rc:?_
7.
li;:h?*--

:.F

,.-7
:*;

'i.

i

I

iV

*i

Fig. 2. ThomasNast. Detail of PEACE ON EARTHAND GOOD
WILL TOWARDS MEN. Woodengraving,detailsize,6114
x 34",
from Harper'sWeekly,vol. 9, no. 445 (July8, 1865),p. 424.
Thisand all other illustrations,unlessotherwisenoted,are
from the AbernethyCollection,StarrLibrary,Middlebury
College,Middlebury,Vermont.

Bushnell, the blood itself reinvigorates the earth, a
point which he makes in his Yale commemorative address. "[The soldiers] reverse, how touchingly,the fable
of Anteus. Instead of receiving from the earth, when
4

By raising the American soil to an almost holy
medium - the nation'sbreadwill come fromthe ground
enrichedby the soldiers'blood - Bushnellhas intimated
that our national return to the earth is a liturgical,
almost sacramental act. The sanctity and nobility of the
soldier's sacrifice is thus dramatically underscored.
For he has shed blood in penance and baptism and he
now participates in an ancient and glorious communion
of the soil, "They that sow in tears shall reap in joy."8
In 1865, in the midst of this religious and political
fervor, Winslow Homer painted The Veteran in a New
Field (Fig. 1). Portraying a solitary figure - a man of
the soil - as he quietly labors in a harvest field of
wheat, Homer distills the images that had pervaded the
nation's attempts to justify and consecrate the losses of
the war, and in a single, powerful image affirms the
"new birth of freedom" others had described.
The painting, which has received far less scrutiny
than others by Homer, appears at first glance a simple
and easily understood work. To appreciate the painting's most subtle meanings, however, we must examine
it from an agrarianand religious point of view. This is
not an easy task, particularlyfrom our twentiethcentury
urban perspective. To unlock the painting's most profound meanings, we must carefully examine the popular metaphors and images that shaped the collective
consciousness of rural America during the Civil War.
In particular,we must understandthe power and varied
nuances of the harvest metaphor, for it is only through
such an examination that we can begin to appreciatethe
richness and complexity of this singularwork.
With the signing of the formal surrender at Appomattox in the spring of 1865, hundreds of thousands
of beleaguered soldiers returned to their homes to begin new lives. The popular, illustratedjournals of the
day portrayed the returning veterans in a variety of
scenes depicting the joy of family reunions, the valor of
Wilson/The Veteran in a New Field

Fig. 3. Artist unknown. THE VETERAN. Woodengraving, 614x
3'11",from Harper'sWeekly, vol. 11, no. 523 (January5,
1867),p. 4.

heroic sacrifice, and the haunting and unremitting
memories of death and destruction (Figs. 2-5).
Of all the homecoming scenes, the most popular
was the soldier returningto his farm and family (Figs. 6
and 7). This image of the warrior/farmeris not at all
surprising since at the beginning of the war, the farmer
was often depicted leaving his fields to join the battle.
In one of the most popular recruitingsongs of the day,
the lyricist wrote:
If you lookall upanddownthe valleys,
Wherethe growingharvestsshine,
You maysee oursturdyfarmerboys fast
formingintolines;
Andchildrenfromtheirmothers'kneesare
pullingat the weeds,
The American Art Journal/Autumn 1985

Fig. 4. Thomas Nast. WHY HE CANNOT

SLEEP.

Wood en-

graving, 13f8 x 9l/4",from Harper'sWeekly,vol. 10, no. 497
(July7, 1866),p. 428.

Andlearninghow to reapandsow,
againsttheircountry'sneeds .. .9
The farmer leaving his fields to enlist in the war
was a particularly poignant image because he was
leaving a harvest field. Not only was the farmerleaving
the warmth and happiness of his home but also the
wealth and bounty of his land. This same theme is also
seen in the recruiting poem, "Move on the Columns!"
Move on the columns!Whyhavesprung
Ourmyriadhostsfromhillandplain?
Leavingthe sicklein thegrainClosingthe harvesthymnhalfsung
Halffill'dthe granaryandthe mow,
Untur'd the sod, untouch'dthe ploughScythesrustingwheretheywerelastswung.'0
5

....

I'?":';"E;;;.an;;:::::::1?:1:????'?'.
.?:???

L

|g

--??-.
.W,.
~.-.'...

?

il

:

::

.

..

:?:.

..

.I,

I

i.........
...
. b

_?":

t?~*t:.

.

-,

.....

?

.

--.. -- -

:

..

:-

;

....
...

'~

.... .:i:,

:r~/'"

,/.

^

'V ..'.._... . ..

"..'....

, ^y

?

flii
:,;'

::

~~2
:i

:?~~~~~i~a

III~~~~~~~~~~~~~~'
~~1

'??

U. [
UCR WAT'eIUNG-rLACU-I
'I'

AT

Po
nW'oRUKT.-LsRU

3M4

.. .J

~

oo

Fig. 5. Winslow Homer. OURWATERING-PLACES - THE EMPTYSLEEVEAT NEWPORT. Wood engraving, 91/4x 13/4",from Harper's
Weekly, vol. 9, no. 452 (August 26, 1865),p. 469. Collection, YaleUniversityArt Gallery, Gift of Allen Evarts Foster.

Fig. 6. Thomas Nast.
PEACE HAS COME, detail
of NATIONAL THANKSGIVING. Wood engraving,

;? '.

detailsize,4/12x 814",
from
Harper'sWeekly, vol. 9,
no.467(December9,1865),
p. 777.

".,'

:-~7??~7:1?~:
??~.~
....??: ?. ~....?{? , ~
._ ,_?:"b..

?

....~-.~;.

,,

'.~.,,,~,..

7

?~--:,

.s.

.

~

-

.:

?

.

..- .1 ,

-

9

-

d
lb
,.4

Fig. 7. ThomasNast. Detail of PEACE ON EARTH

3i'r*?pl
*:\.b:n
r?

??*i
ip*u,i? :jl

AND GOOD WILL TOWARDS

r5?k

fC

'"Ck-,

detailsize, 9'k2x121",from

?ilcd:

.?c:

-L?si

MEN. Wood engraving,

?*

I
-r

Harper'sWeekly, vol. 9,
no. 445 (July8, 1865),pp.
424-425.

4.

*

.1

. ,?

1.,_/

. I
'-,
AO%

:.,.-

7<

g

1 w

# ?s'
r

-

.

.

I

I

Fig. 8. Artist unknown.
PEACE -

FOURTH OF JULY,

1865. Wood engraving, 10W8

x 91/4",
from Harper'sWeekly, vol. 9, no. 445 (July 8,
1865),p. 417.

zIX.

..... . . ....._.-..
.......
. ,
.r-.
........

---4.No. 445).1
r .
si tol .,
..t.:..i'.-.r.ii
.
.. '.........
. l...... ...............

.

NNrW YORK,X SATURtDAY,
i

.

JULY

8,

.. .

"Closing the harvest hymn half sung" also suggests
that at the end of the war, the farmer would indeed
return to complete the harvest" (Figs. 8, 9, and 10).
In his painting, The Veteranin a New Field, Homer
depicts one of these soldiers as he labors in the midst of
8

1865.
C r r

r.D
t

^ti E1,t~lR

*

a harvest field. The bountifulharvest, the warm sunlight
and the broad, blue sky imbue the scene with a feeling
of reverence and thanksgiving while the balanced and
stark composition underscoresthe simplicityof agrarian
life. The pronouncedsculpturaland monumentalqualities
Wilson/The Veteran in a New Field

Fig. 9. Artistunknown.Detail
of PEACE-FOURTH

OF JULY,

'

'

t

I865, in Figure8.

-

f

-

*.

'..

'

. .*

..

.;

....

of the singlefigurecreatea universalandtimelessimage
whichtranscendsthe particularmomentandrecallsthe
ancientheritageandnobilityof thefarmer'sprofession.
Like a modernday Cincinnatus,the formerwarrior,
now farmer,has surrenderedhis swordwith its slashingandchaoticstrokesforthe moregentleandrestorative rhythmsof the scythe.12
Unlike the popularillustrator,Homer does not
focus upon the sentimental,narrativereunionof soldierand familybut ratheruponthe reunionof veteran
and field. Even more unusualis Homer'srepresentation of a singlefigure,for the harvestis traditionally
a
time of celebrationand communaleffort. In an 1857
article from Harper's New Monthly Magazine, T. B.

Thorpedescribesan Americanharvestscene(Fig. 12).
The solicitudeof the husbandman
is passed.Witha bright
eye and a hopefulstep he summonshis laborersto gather
in the harvest.Strongarmsandmerryheartsuniteto revel
amongthe noddingstalks,now top-heavywiththeirfruitage... The flashingsickle glances in the sunlight,and
everysweepof the powerfularmthatwieldsitbringsdown
the beardedgrain, while others follow in the reaper's
wake, and bind it into sheaves ... Jokes, keen repartee,
andjoyous laughterare often heard,betrayingthe body
healthyandthe mindat ease.'3

In contrastto this popularimage,Homerpaintsa
somberand solitaryfigurequietlyharvestingwheatin
the lightof a noondaysun. As the titlesuggests,this is
not a portraitof a specific veteranbut ratherof the
veteran,i.e., all veterans.Homersubtlyenhancesthe
anonymous and universalqualitiesof the figureby
portrayinghimfrombehind.Througha carefullystrucThe American Art Journal/Autumn 1985

Fig. 10. Artistunknown.Detail of
PEACE-FOURTH OF JULY, 1865, in

Figure8.
9

THE

Fig.

WinslowHm.

VETERAN

IN A NEW FIELD.-F-IOM

A PAINTING
I.Y

11M
tr..lt.

THEVETERAN
INA NEWFIELD.Woodengraving,5 x 714"fom FrankLeslie's IllustratedNewspaper,

vol. 24, no. 615(July13, 1867),p. 268.

tured composition, Homer focuses the viewer's attention not upon a specific narrative but upon a broader
and more profound theme - the reunion of man and
nature. 14
This reunion can be interpretedon several levels.
On one level, the painting can be seen as a symbol of
America's future wealth and abundance. In the spring
of 1865, America looked to the future with a renewed
sense of purpose and optimism.
to us
[The announcementof peace]comes appropriately
on one of the loveliestof springdays. Likethe sunwhich
shines out so kindlyto-day, [the proclamation
of peace]
warmsour heartswithpromisesof peaceandplenty ....
there is cause for joy over the greatevent, for ... our
peace bringslibertyand the promiseof enduringand increasingprosperity.5
These same sentiments are extolled in the poetry of
Walt Whitman. In his 1867 poem, "The Return of the
Heroes," Whitman celebrates in booming and heroic
cadences the dawn of a new and prosperous America.
10

Fecund America -

to-day,

Thouartallover set in birthsandjoys!
Thougroan'stwithriches,thy wealthclothes
thee as a swathing-garment,
Thoulaughestloudwithacheof greatpossessions...
Thouenvy of the globe!thoumiracle!
Thou,bathed,choked,swimmingin plenty,
Thou lucky Mistress of the tranquilbarns ..

16

Homer's veteran standing in the midst of a bountiful
harvest (a critic for The Nation exclaimed, "And such
grain! six feet high are its shortest stalks") is the perfect
pictorialexpression for this new eraof peace andplenty. 7
On another level, the painting can be seen as a
celebration of American democracy. At the end of the
war, Britain and several European nations expressed
doubts about America's ability to dismantleher armies.
These doubts, however, were quicklylaidto rest.
Over a hundredand twentythousandsoldiershavebeen
disbanded within three weeks ... a short time ago the
thought of the disbandment ... filled many persons with

Wilson/The Veteran in a New Field

Fig. 12. E. Topler. REAPINGWHEAT. Wood
engraving by Roberts (?), 514 x 4'/2", from

WHEAT AND ITS ASSOCIATIONS.

T.B. Thorpe,"WheatandItsAssociations,"
Harper'sNew MonthlyMagazine,vol. 15,
no. 87 (August,1857),p. 307.

RiAftl}N

alarm.It was fearedthatthesemen,usedto the roughlife
of camp, habituatedto the use of deadlyweaponsandto
scenes of blood, wouldbe a wildandrecklesselementin
our society; that our streetswould teem with scenes of
violence,and that murdersand robberieswouldbecome
frightfullyfrequent.These were fearsjustifiedto some
extent by the experienceof othercountriesthathadsuddenlydisbandedlargearmies.Butourexperiencehasbeen
very differentfrom that of any othercountryin this re-

spect, and all these fears have proved entirelygroundless.18

A canteen with a Union insignia in the right foreground of Homer's painting subtly emphasizes the veteran's peaceful transitionfrom militaryto civilian life.'9
Homer's veteran, therefore, stands as a compelling
symbol of democratic government and the virtues of
republican life. Significantly, in 1867 a critic emphasized these very issues in reviewing Homer's painting
for Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper.
The American Art Journal/Autumn 1985

WEiA?

We give on this page an illustrationof Mr. Homer's
excellentand suggestivepicture,"TheVeteranin a New
Field."Oneof themostconclusiveevidencesof thestrength
of a republicanformof governmentis thewayinwhichour
armyhasdisbanded,eachmanseekingagainthe sphereof
usefulnesswhich he left temporarily,to aid the Governmentin its need.Thetauntsof ourenemiesin Europe,and
the predictionsthey keptconstantlyuttering,thateven if
we escapedthe dangerof driftingintoa militarydespotism,
we would find, when the armywas disbanded,thatthe
countrywouldbe filledwithmenwhohadbeendemoralized
by yearsspentin its service,shookthefaithof evenmany
system.
thoughtfulpersonswho believedin therepublican
Now, however,thatthe waris over,andallsuchfearsare
ourselves
shownto be groundless,we canwellcongratulate
upon the mannerin whichthe veteranshave returnedto
theiroldfields,or soughtfornewones, sinceinthiswe find
one of the surest proofs of the stabilityof our political
system. Mr. Homeris to be warmlycommendedfor the
simpleandtruthfulway in whichhe hastoldallthis.20
11

.. .:....
::ii~::
........
~iiii:~.......:
~ ";
:;:~,.,:....
.;..;.;..':.; -;;..'"'...
~"'. %
.....

IU;:O?
-..

.:_.

.

.
[7:~ii~iiiiii:~%~iiii!~iii:di:~
i[iiii~:...

.

==============:::::::::
. ======

::::

.ows

MAN

..
:

.

.

:

.??

O"I~R;It.~
,~)C~80W8

AND:
*:...:.

....:::i [:.

....;:

AN..

.

.."..

:%i,,

1. . .."Ili :

REAPS.
,QZ~"I)
..Al~'o rHER IIEAPS.~

Fig. 13. Artist unknown. ONE MAN SOWS AND ANOTHER REAPS. Woodengraving, 3/4 x 7",from Harper's Weekly, vol. 5, no. 236
(July 6, 1861), p. 419. The caption under the title of the engraving reads: "It is understood that much land hitherto devoted to
Cotton is now sown with Grain. By about August our Zouaves will be along there, and will Reap it!"

The painting is, indeed, very suggestive. In addition to its economic and political implications, the
paintingis also imbuedwith an importantspiritualtheme.
On its most profound level, it represents an agrarian
society's attempt to come to grips with the death and
destruction of war.
In the title of his painting, Homer is making a
clever allusion to the veteran's former activities as a
soldier. In a simple, narrative sense, Homer is merely
describing the veteran as he harvests his first "new
field" of wheat after the war. In another sense, however, Homer is also referring to the veteran's "old
field," i.e., the battlefield. On the old field, the veteran
cut down enemy soldiers, while on the new field, he
cuts down wheat. On the old field, the veteran reaped
death and destruction; on the new field, he reaps life
and sustenance.
This allusion to the veteran's past and present
lives was a common pictorial theme in the popular
press. To capture the drama and emotion of the soldier's return and his transition to civilian life, many
illustrators portrayed the veteran in "before and after"
scenes. These pendants not only capturedthe narrative
action of the soldier's return but also the dramatic
contrasts of war and peace (Figs. 14-17).21
12

In a particularly vivid example entitled, "The
Blessings of Victory," the illustratorportrays the contrast between militaryand civilian life (Figs. 18and 19).
In the first scene, the soldier stands in triumph above
the death and carnage of the battlefield, while in the
second scene, the former soldier, now farmer, experiences the fruits of his sacrifices as he toils in a new,
more peaceful field.
This dramatic juxtaposition of military and agricultural images is at the very heart of Homer's painting.
However, unlike the popular illustrator, Homer does
not paint thematically linked scenes but instead he
creates a single image depictingthe bounty of the harvest
field while metaphoricallysuggestingthe veteran'searlier
toils and sacrifices on the battlefield. This propensity
for metaphorical interpretation was deeply engrained
in the collective consciousness of Civil War America.
In fact, by the autumn of 1865, it would have been
difficult to gaze upon Homer's harvest scene without
contemplating the veteran's former life and the deadly
harvest he had reaped on the fields of war. When
viewed in this broader context, Homer's painting is
transformed into a powerful pictorial statement embodying in a single synoptic scene both the horrors of
war and the blessings of peace.22
Wilson/The Veteran in a New Field

Figs. 14 and 15. Thomas Nast. GOING TO THE WAR and RETURNING FROM THE WAR, details ofTHE FOURTH OF
JULY, 1864. Wood engravings, detail size, each 314x4718",from
Harper'sWeekly, vol. 8, no. 394 (July 16, 1864),
pp. 456 and 457.

OF WAR and THE VETERAN'SWELCOME,details of THE BLESSINGSOF
Figs. 16 and 17. Thomas Nast. FREEINGTHE PRISONERS
VICTORY.Woodengravings,detailsize, each3/4x3314",fromHarper'sWeekly, vol.8, no. 404(September24, 1864),p. 617.

As an agrarian nation, it is not surprising that
Americans repeatedly described the suffering and
carnage of the war through agricultural images. For
example, even before the war began, the composer
George F. Root invoked the harvest/battle image in a
musical plea for peace. In his 1860 opera The Haymakers, Root describes the harvest field:
How likesome tentedcampthe distantfieldappears!
Allgloriousinthemorninglight,tho'wetwithdewytears,
How fliesthe heavymistlikethe smokeof battlestrife,
As brighteningallthe sky the sunis burstingintolife,
Likethe sword'sbrightflash,
Andthe saber'sclash
Andthe rolling,rollingdrum,
Are the glancinglight,
Of the scythesso bright,
Andthe wood-bird'swhirringhum.
Joy! it is not the tentedfield,it is not
the rollingdrum,it is not the saber'sflash,
northe cannon'sroar.Theonlytentsare
fragranthay. The only sentinels,the ... robins,
who at ourapproachhaveflownaway.23
14

As the war spread across America in the springof
1861, poets continued to use harvest imageryto describe
the conflict. In one of the early recruiting poems entitled, "The Two Furrows," H. C. Webb calls upon
America's farmers to leave their fields and enter the
fray.
The Farmersaw the shamefromfar,
And stoppedhis plowafield;
Not the bladeof peacebutthe brandof war
Thisarmof minemustwield.
The Farmersighed- a lifetimelong
The plowhas beenmy trust;
In truthit werean arrantwrong
To leave it now to rust.
Withreadystrengththe Farmertore
The ironfromthe wood,
Andto the villagesmithhe bore
Thatplow-sharestoutandgood.
The blacksmith'sarmswerebareandbrown,
Andloudthe bellowsroared;
The Farmerflunghis plow-sharedown"Now forgeme out a sword!"
Wilson/The Veteran in a New Field

Figs. 18and 19. ThomasNast. Details f THE
BLESSINGS OF VICTORY. Wood engravings,
detail size, each 7 x 22k",from Harper's
Weekly,vol. 8, no. 404(September24, 1864),
pp. 616-617.

The blacksmithwroughtwithskillthatday,
The bladewas keenandbright,
Andnow wherethickestis the fray
The Farmer leads the fight ...

The Farmer'sface is burnedandbrown,
Butlightis on his brow,
Rightwell he wots whatblessingscrown
The furrowof the Plow.
Butbetteris to-day'ssuccess
Thusranthe Farmer'sword
Fornationsyet unbornshallbless
Thisfurrowof the sword.24
The American Art Journal/Autumn 1985

In this poem, Webb is making a clever play on the
biblical prophecy of Isaiah, "and they shall beat their
swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning
hooks..." (Isaiah 2:4). This allusion to Isaiah also
optimistically suggests an end to the war and a time
when the farmer's sword will again till the field.
This early optimism, however, vanished as the
war dragged on and casualties mounted. As thousands
of soldiers died every week, the harvest theme took on
a new poignancy. In Jeff Davis Reaping the Harvest,
from an October, 1861, issue of Harper's Weekly, the
15

Fig. 20. Artist unknown.
JEFF

DAVIS

REAPING

THE

HARVEST. Wood engraving,

9 x 6",from Harper'sWeekly, vol. 5, no. 252 (October
26, 1861),p. 688.

Confederate President is portrayedas a kind of skeletal
monster reaping a harvest of death (Fig. 20). Enframed
by a skeleton, serpent, buzzard, and noose, Davis, in a
dramatic contrast of life and death, reaps a skull-tasselled field of wheat.
16

As the war continued, the harvest of death became a recurringtheme in the popular press. After the
battle of Antietam, an anonymous poet wrote:
The harvest-moono'er the battle-plain
Shinesdimin the filmyeyes of thedead,
Wilson/The Veteran in a New Field

Fig. 21. THE HARVEST OF DEATH. 1863.Photograph(negativeby TimothyH. O'Sullivan,positivebyAlexanderGardner),from
SketchBookof the War,2 vols. (Washington,
AlexanderGardner,Photographic
D.C., 1866),plate36. Collection,TheLibraryof
Congress.

And the yellowwealthof the latergrain,
Groundby the millstonesof deathandpain,
Andwet withthe life-bloodof the slain,
Is kneadedto horriblebread.25
The harvest image was particularlywell suited for
the battle of Gettysburg. For three days in early July of
1863, the Union and Confederate armies repeatedly
clashed on the wheat fields surroundingthe small Pennsylvania town. Immediately after the battle, the poets
began to commemorate the dead.
Let us lay themwheretheyfell,
Whentheirworkwas doneso well!
Dumbandstricken- leavingto others
All the gloriousnews to tell.
All the yellowharvest-field,
Cursedwitha crimsonyield,
'Neaththe thrustingin of sickles,
As the battlewaxedandreeled!26
One of the most vivid descriptions of a battlefield
The American Art Journal/Autumn 1985

was penned by the photographer Alexander Gardner.
As a caption to one of the most memorable photographs of the war (Fig. 21), Gardnerwrote:
Slowly, over the misty fieldsof Gettysburg- as all reluctantto expose theirghastlyhorrorsto thelight- came
the sunlessmorn,afterthe retreatby Lee's brokenarmy.
Throughthe shadowyvapors,itwas, indeed,a "harvestof
death" that was presented ...27

After the great battles of 1862and 1863, hundreds
of families had lost two or three sons. The sacrifices of
these families were often commemorated in poems. In
"The Only Son" the poet uses the harvest image to
describe the death on the battlefield as well as the loss
at home.
In the stillNew Englandautumn
The workof the yearwas done,
Butafarwerefieldsunsickled
Underthe southernsun
Fieldsto be reapedin battle
Harvests by victory won ...

17

Fig. 22. Artist unknown. PREPARE! Wood engraving, 53/4 x
412", from Harper's Weekly,

vol. 10,no.479(March3, 1866),
p. 144.

Fromeach housea livingecho
Wasgivenuntothe call,
One fromthe nestledcottage,
Onefromthe ancestralhall;
In a homewerethreefairbrothers,
And the mothergavethemall.
They went, andthe fieldsby the river
Withtheirharvestinggrewred;
And they camewiththe sheavesof triumph
Erethe leavesweredead:
"Welcome,my son, mineonly,"
Calmlythe mothersaid.
18

On the lowerMississippi
The workof the yearwas done;
The deathlyfieldsweresickled
Underthe burningsun;
Andthe harvest-homewasjoyful
Thoughthe motherwelcomedone.28
When viewed in light of this literary tradition,
Homer's veteran is transformed into a somber and
melancholy figure. The gently waving grain, the blue
sky, and the bright sunlight all serve to heighten the
contrast between the veteran's present life and the dark
Wilson/The Veteran in a New Field

Fig. 23. Artistunknown.Detail of THE HORRORS OF
TRAVEL. Wood engraving,
detail size,

91/4

x 14", from

Harper'sWeekly,vol. 9, no.
456 (September23, 1865),p.
600.

responsibilities of his past. These associations with an
earlier and deadlier harvest are further reinforced by
the scythe itself. For like the harvest field, the veteran's
scythe is a dramatic symbol of both life and death (Figs.
12 and 22- 23). The painting's somber and introspective connotations are mirroredin a July, 1865,editorial
from the New-YorkDaily Tribune.
[Ourreturningsoldiers]have grownvery old in the brief
while; old in experience,not in years; ... Theirvision
stretchesfurtherthanthe scene beforethem,beyondthe
Presentand the Peace, intothe Pastandthe Struggleand
and ... the anxiety
revealsthe horrorsof the battle-field;
and suffering,andagonyworsethandeaththathaveconsecratedourcauseforever.29
Homer's painting, however, is much more than a
commemoration of the dead; it is also a powerful reaffirmation of life. At the end of the war, the harvest
image was quickly transformedfrom an image of death
to one of life and renewal. For example, Alexander
Gardner in his 1866 description of the fortifications of
Manassas wrote:
The fortificationsare now rapidlybeinglevelled,andin a
Thesoilcomposfew yearswillhaveentirelydisappeared.
ing them ... washes away in every rain,fillingup the
ditchesand reducingthe sharplydefinedworksto sloping
mounds,over whichthe farmer'splow is alreadyturning
the furrow.30
For his photographof the battlefieldat AntietamBridge,
Gardner wrote:
The American Art Journal/Autumn 1985

Very little now remainsto markthe adjacentfieldsas a
battle ground. Houses and fences have been repaired,
harvestshave ripenedover the breastsof the fallen,and
the plough-share only now and then turns up a ... relic of

thatgreatstruggle.31

Gardner suggested that the rotting corpses of the
dead were literally sweetening the soil. The soldier as
compost was a recurrent theme in the popular literature. In lamenting the destruction of our fertile lands, a
New York critic wrote, "The war has left very little but
the naked soil; but that is enough. [The soil] has been
literally enriched by the slain."32 In a pictorial variation on this theme, an illustrator for Frank Leslie's
Illustrated Newspaper portrays a farmer as he tills his
field and turns up the skull of a decomposed soldier
(Fig. 24).
With fallen soldiers leavening the soil, battlefields
across America were transformed into fields of peace
and plenty. In his poem, "Harvests on Historic Fields,"
N. G. Shepherd described the miraculous transformation of one of these fields (Fig. 25):
Threeyearsago the battle'sbreath
Sweptfiery-hotacrossthe plain;
And steadilythe reaperDeath,
Withcruelcarnagein his train,
Marchedthroughthe serriedranks,thatstood
Unwavering,andcut themdown;
Whilefieldandfarmandhillandwood
Grewdarkbeneaththe battle'sfrown.
19

OFFICERSTO
BATTLEFIELD,detail ofPENNSYLVANIA- VISITOF UNIONAND CONFEDERATE
Fig. 24. Artist unknown. GETTYSBURG
POINTSOF THEBATTLE.Wood engraving, detail size, 3/4 X
THE BATTLE-FIELDOF GETTYSBURG, JUNE 7TH - 8TH TOTHEHISTORIC

Newspaper,vol.54, no. 1396(June24, 1882),pp.280-281.Collection,BakerMemorialLibrary,
514",fromFrankLeslie'sIllustrated
DartmouthCollege,Hanover,New Hampshire.
The cannon thundered in their wrath,

The musketrangwithvolleysthere;
The loudshellcut its tracklesspath,
Andburstwithfuryin the air;
Andthicklyby the troddenway,
In dyke andfield,by levelrows
Of trampledcorn, Death'sharvestlay Friendclose to friend,andfoe withfoes.
To-dayanotherharveststands
Whereonce Deathtrodthe bleedingplain,
Ripefor the reapers'readyhands
Thatbindin sheavesthegoldengrain.
Afarthe shelteredfarm-housesleeps,
Emboweredin shade;whileo'erthe mound,
Withpityinggrowth,the wild-vinecreeps,
Whereriflesrangwithdeadlysound.
Up fromhercover startsthe quail,
As chancingon herhiddennest
The farmer-lad,withnoisyhail,

Spies quick as thought the speckled breast.

20

Andlow andsweet the echoescall;
Whilefromthe bluesky overhead,
In mellowradiancefloodingall,
Thegoldenlightof peaceis shed.33
The harvest was a particularly apt and powerful
metaphor for an agrariannation. Rich in its sacrificial
and redemptive meanings, the harvest metaphortransformed America's fertile, young men into stalks of
wheat to be harvested on the nation's battlefields. On
these fields, thousands of soldiers died in a deadly
harvest but through their sacrifice they literally and
figuratively enriched the American soil producing a
new nation of prosperity and freedom.
Homer's painting derives its expressive force and
meaning from a series of dramatic contrasts between
life and death, sacrifice and redemption,war and peace.
These oppositions are deeply rooted in the biblical
tradition and particularly in the prophetic writings of
the Old Testament.
Wilson/The Veteran in a New Field

Fig. 25. W. L. Sheppard. HARVEST ONHISTORICFIELDS. Wood engraving, 91/4x 1334",from Harper's Weekly, vol. 10, no.

551(July20, 1867),p. 452.

To every thingthereis a season,
anda timeto every purposeunderthe heaven:
A timeto be born,anda timeto die; ...
A timeto kill,anda timeto heal; ...
a timeof war,anda timeof peace.
(Ecclesiastes3:1-3,8)
The biblical resonances of the paintingare further
strengthened by the ancient prophecies of Isaiah. Having surrendered his sword for the scythe and the battlefield for the wheatfield, Homer's veteran is the embodiment of Isaiah's new world in which "nation shall
not lift up sword against nation." Certainly, these prophetic overtones in Homer's painting would not have
been lost on the contemporaryviewer, for, in the spring
of 1865,many people believed that Americahad fulfilled
the words of Isaiah. In a May, 1865, editorial for The
Evening Post, a critic states that it is now time for the
South to "restore themselves to the common heritageof
freedom by turningtheir swords into ploughshareswithout a moment's delay ... and let your cities, towns,
farms and plantations once again hum with prosperity,
The American Art Journal/Autumn 1985

and blossom and bring forth the abundant harvests of
peace."34 In a similar, prophetic vein, blacksmiths
across America literallyand figurativelyforged the new
tools of peace (Figs. 26 and 27).
This prophetic theme is an integral part of many
post-war illustrations. In one of these examples from a
title page illustrationin Harper's Weekly, we see a large
allegorical figure of peace returningAmerica's soldiers
to their farms and families. In fulfillment of Isaiah's
words, the soldiers are already turningtheir rifles into
scythes and their spears into pruning hooks (see Figs.
8-10). The dawn of the messianic age is further emphasized by the shaft of light which shines upon the
angel of peace. For according to Isaiah, light is the
embodiment of the new age.
The people that walkedin darknesshave seen a great
light:they that dwell in the landof the shadowof death,
uponthemhaththe lightshined.
Thouhastmultipliedthe nation,...
theyjoy beforetheeaccordingto thejoy in harvest...35
(Isaiah9:2-3)
21

.1?? ....??.,.....
i:
?? .a:
t?l\'"1
ii

"

"t

Ir Pi
:
ic

?i A

?,i;
?
I?.

i

..._....,
.1. irt r i..
t.ija
lr?
i:
tiiii''
1.

tt
j.!i

:I

t.
iP

'rll i
lj
I I;
e iXlr
ti '":A1
;;;
;ii.
i!I:
,,?
i"?;?
1

i

??

.i?
'.i

;?i?
I.

i
ii!

i

b?i:?i?
iiir:

Iti ?,.
''
*t?.
irrr:-?
I?il:ij

i

AFTER THE WAR.
TRE FARMER.

blacksmith, are you busy?
My horse has cast a shoe,
Long road have I to travel,.
You must fit us out anew.
HO!

TE

BLACKSMITH.

Look round my forge, good farmer,
And tell me what you see;
Am I busy? am I idle?
Ask the anvil at my knee.

THE BLACKSMITH.

Not so, my jovial farmer,
The weapons that I forge
No manly limbs shall sever,
Draw no gore-drops,cut no gorge:
Sword I'm turning into plow-share,
Into reaping-hook the gun,
Here are bayonets by the bushelShall I shoe your horse with one?

THE FARMER.

I see around your work-shop
Stark implements of warCan it be that you are forging
Some new-born quarrel for?

Or, if a broken fetter
From the South his hoof will fit,
Lead in your horse, good farmer,
And I'll iron him with it!

Enteredaccordingto Act of Congress,in the year 1865,by Harperand Brothers,in the Clerk'sOfficeof the DistrictCourtforthe SouthernDistrict of New York.

VOL. XX T.-No. 183.-T
Fig. 26. Artist unknown. AFTERTHEWAR. Woodengraving,4x4'1s",from Harper'sNew Monthly
Magazine, vol. 31, no. 183 (August, 1865),p. 435.

Fig. 27. Artist unknown. A YEARAGOANDTODAY. Woodengraving, 9 x 14'4",from Frank Leslie's llustratedNewspaper,

vol. 22, no. 552 (April28, 1866),p. 89. Collection,BakerMemorialLibrary,DartmouthCollege.

In the print, the light of God shines down upon the
darkness transforming the angel of death with its fiery
torch of war into an angel of peace glowing in the joy
and warmth of the radiant light. In a similar manner,
the soldiers are also transformed by the divine light.
Like the angel of death, the soldiers marchingin formation are still covered by darkness, but as they step out
into the light of God, they are transfiguredinto new
men who willingly surrender their arms to enter the
new fields of peace (see Fig. 9).
The sun as a symbol of divine grace was a particularly powerful metaphor at the end of the war. Whether
it was stated implicitly: "In mellow radiance flooding
all,/The golden light of peace is shed" or explicitly: "A
new world is born, and the Sun of Peace rises in splendour to send abroad over the land its rays of warmth
and light," it proclaimed that God's chosen people
were once again sanctified and blessed by His divine
grace.36

When viewed in this religious and political context, Homer's veteran laboring beneath a brilliant
The American Art Journal/Autumn 1985

noonday sun is the very embodiment of this new prophetic age of light and peace. Workingin the midst of a
bountiful harvest, the veteran stands as a pictorial response to the ancient biblical litany, "For what hath
man of all his labor, and of the vexation of his heart,
wherein he hath labored under the sun?"37 Clearly,
Homer's veteran reaps the fruits and bounty of his
earlier toils on the battlefields of America. Through a
single, powerful image, Homer reaffirmsthat the veteran's toil and sacrifices were not in vain and that through
his efforts America had indeed experienced a new birth
of freedom and prosperity.
Homer's The Veteran in a New Field is one of the
artist's most subtle and provocative paintings. Drawing upon the common cultural vocabulary of Civil War
America, Homer has created a visual parable whose
most profound meanings are deeply rooted in the metaphorical language of an agrarian society and in the
biblical allusions of a religious nation. When viewed
through nineteenth-century eyes, this seemingly simple painting is transformed into a complex and richly
23

Fig. 28. George Inness. PEACE AND
George A. Hearn, 1894.

PLENTY.

1865.Oilon canvas, 77s x 1128s".Collection, TheMetropolitanMuseum of Art, Gift of

structured work. By immersing ourselves in the popular culture of the day, we begin to understandnot only
this painting but also other works whose varied and
subtle meanings are bound in that same biblical and
metaphorical lanelage. For it is only throughthis kind

of careful and deliberate act of recovery that we can
begin to appreciate the joy and religious exultation
experienced by our foreblearsas they stood before or
labored in the midst of a sunlit harvest in the autumnof
1865 (Figs. 1 and 28).

My thanksto ProfessorJulesPrownwho introducedme to the
problemsandcomplexitiesof Homer'sartduringmygraduatetrainingat YaleUniversity.Fortheiradviceandassistanceonthisarticle,I
want to thank David Huntington,Kirstenand Luke Powell,Jane
Turano,John Wilmerding,ClaireWilson,and BryanWolf. I also
wantto acknowledgethe writingsof MeyerSchapiro,"Courbetand
andCourtauld
Institutes,
PopularImagery,"Journalof the Warburg
vol. 4 (1941),pp. 164-191; AnneHanson,"Manet'sSubjectMatter
as a Sourceof PopularImages,"MuseumStudies,Art Instituteof
and
Chicago(1968),pp. 63 -80; andJoel Isaacson,"Impressionism
JournalisticIllustration,"
ArtsMagazine,vol. 56(June,1982),pp.95of artand
115, which have shapedmy interestsin the relationship
popularimagery.For this article, I have drawnheavilyfromthe
popularpublicationsof the day. Becausethesewritingsandimages
whichwereonce so commona partof lifearenowlargelyunknown,I
haveusuallyseen fitto cite themin full.

1. AbrahamLincoln, "AnnualMessageto Congress,December,
1862,"TheCollectedWorksof AbrahamLincoln,ed. Roy P. Basler
(New Brunswick,New Jersey,1953),vol. V, p. 537.
2. Ibid.,vol. VII, p. 17.
3. Ibid.
4. PhilipSchaff, "Dr. Schaffs Lecturesof AmericaDeliveredin
Europe, 1865,"in The ChristianIntelligence,ed. ElbertS. Porter
(New York,1860),vol. XXXVII,p. 10.
Southerntheologianssuch as StephenElliottalso drew upon
baptismalimagestojustifytheircause:"Allnationswhichcomeinto
existenceat thislateperiodof theworldmustbe bomamidthestorm
of revolutionandmustwintheirway to a placein historythroughthe
baptismof blood."(StephenElliott,New WineNot to bePutintoOld
Bottles.A SermonPreachedin ChristChurch,Savannah,on Friday,

February 28th, 1862, Being the Day of Humiliation, Fasting, and
Prayer, Appointed by the President of the ConfederateStates [Savannah, 1862]). Also see Eben E. Rexford's poem, "For the Nation's
Birthday, July 4, 1865."
From out the red baptismalflood,
Arise, new-born, at freedom's dawn,
Thy stain is washed away in blood.
(Frank Leslie's IllustratedNewspaper, July 8, 1865)
For a thorough discussion of the metaphor, see William Anthony
Clebsch, "Baptism of Blood: A Study of ChristianContributionsto
the Interpretation of the Civil War in American History," Ph.D.
dissertation, Union Theological Seminary, 1957.
5. Horace Bushnell, "Oration:Our Obligationsto the Dead," in The
Commemorative Celebration held at YaleCollege, Wednesday,July
26, 1865 (New Haven, 1866),p. 7.
6. Ibid., p. 24.
7. Ibid., p. 16. Also see "The Sowing of the Ages," anonymous poem,
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, vol. 18, no. 446 (April 16,
1864).
And this last crop of the seeds [America's soldiers]
Surely must be good Must be wondrous good:
Precious crop for sorest needs,
For the prostrate generations
Water it well with blood.
The regenerative power of the earth is also one of the central themes
of another popular poem entitled, "The Contrast":
We sit at home, nor feel that they
Who fight upon the distant plain
Are falling faster day by day,
A harvest of the slain....
We arise each day to weary toil
And hourly strife - their work is done!
Their blood will consecrate the soil
Their lives so nobly won.
(Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, vol. 18, no. 461 [July 30,
1864], p. 298)
Walt Whitman touches upon this same theme in the opening lines
of his poem, "Race of Veterans."
Race of veterans - race of victors!
Race of the soil ...
(Whitman, "Race of Veterans," Complete Poetry and Collected Prose [New York, 1982],p. 452)
8. Psalms 126:5,The Bible, Authorized (King James) Version.
9. "We Are Coming Father Abra'am," The Civil War Songbook
(New York, 1977),pp. 31-32.
10. "Move on the Columns!", anonymous poem, Frank Leslie's
Illustrated Newspaper, vol. 13, no. 319 (January4, 1862),p. 106.Also
see Whitman, "Beat! Beat! Drums!", Complete Poetry and Collected
Prose, p. 419.
11. An accompanying poem to the Harper's Weeklyillustration(see
Figs. 8, 9, and 10) reads:
From Thy high throne within the skies
Look down, great God, upon our land:
Behold our altars how they stand
Wet with the blood of sacrifice! ...
Bless thou our land! From east to west
Make fruitfulall the teeming soil:
Bless to the farmer his hardtoil:
Our harvests, Lord, O make them blest.
("Hymn for the Fourth of July, 1865," Harper's Weekly,vol. 9,
no. 445 [July 8, 1865],p. 418)
12. The painting has received little attention in the critical literature.
For brief but interesting discussions of the painting, see James
Thomas Flexner, The Worldof Winslow Homer, 1836-1910 (New
York, 1966), pp. 72 -73, Natalie Spassky, "Winslow Homer at the

Metropolitan Museum of Art," The Metropolitan Museum of Art
Bulletin (Spring, 1982), p. 8, and John Wilmerding,WinslowHomer
(New York, 1972), pp. 47 - 48. Also see Wilmerding, "Winslow
Homer's Creative Process," The Magazine Antiques, vol. 108
(November, 1975), pp. 965-976.
The painting was first exhibited at the 1865 exhibition of the
Artists' Fund Society of New York. See Catalogue of the Sixth
Annual Exhibition of the Artists' Fund Society (New York, 1865),p.
18, No. 300. "The Veteran in a New Field. For Sale." A review of the
painting in The Nation criticized Homer for his execution of the trees
and the excessive height of the grain. The critic also wrote, "... we
are inclined to quarrelwith the veteran for havingforgottenin his four
years or less of campaigning, that it is with a cradle, and not with a
scythe alone, that he should attack standing grain" ("The Sixth
Annual Exhibition of the Artists' Fund Society of New York," The
Nation, vol. 1 [November 23, 1865], p. 663). It is interestingto note
that in the painting today, there are no trees and the grainappears to
have been shortened. Moreover, a cradle is now attached to the
scythe suggesting that Homer altered the paintingsometime after the
exhibition, perhaps in response to the critic's review. In 1867,Frank
Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper published an engraving of Homer's
painting as it probably appeared at the 1865exhibition (Fig. 11).
13. T. B. Thorpe, "Wheat and its Associations," Harper's New
Monthly Magazine, vol. 15, no. 87 (August, 1857),pp. 308-309.
14. For a similar interpretation,see Flexner, The Worldof Winslow
Homer, pp. 72 - 73 and Wilmerding, Winslow Homer, p. 47. The
power Homer derives from the anonymity of the veteran as Everyman is echoed in Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage, in
which Crane, too, by deliberately vague references endows his
hero - "the youth" - with the universalityof anonymity.
15. "The First Act of Peace," The Evening Post, Friday, April 14,
1865. Also see, "The Dawn of Peace," New-YorkDaily Tribune,
April 14, 1865, and The Evening Post, May 10, 1865.
They have fought in a righteouscause, and they returnvictors to a
prosperous land, filled with ... peace andjoy and abundance.
16. Whitman, Complete Poetry and Collected Prose, p. 487.
17. "The Sixth Annual Exhibitionof the Artists' Fund Society of New
York," The Nation, vol. 1 (November 23, 1865),p. 663.
18. "Coming Home from the Wars - The Orderly Conduct of the
Soldiers," New YorkHerald, Wednesday, June 14, 1865.
The peaceful dismantlingof the army was a source of greatpride
for Americans as reflected in several newspapereditorials.
[The nations of Europe are astonished by] the news that though
our gigantic war is but a few days over, we have alreadybegunthe
disbandment of the great Army of the Union ... In a few weeks a
very large part of those gallant soldiers who have saved the
country from destruction, and crowned it with unfadinglaurels,
will be dispersed. They will go to improve the coming season in
tilling the land they have saved, and to set an example of our loyal
and useful citizenship, such as only our army of citizen-soldiers
can furnish.
("Astonishing the World," New-YorkTimes, May 7, 1865)
For other editorials, see "Our Unemployed Soldiers," NewYork Times, May 6, 1865; "Our Returning Soldiers," New-York
Times, Sunday, June 4, 1865; "Work for the Soldiers," New-York
Daily Tribune, June 9, 1865; "The Future of Our Soldiers," The
Evening Post, June 13, 1865; "Our ReturningSoldiery," New-York
Daily Tribune, June 14, 1865;and "The Celebrationof the Glorious
Fourth of July," New YorkHerald, July 3, 1865.Also see Whitman's
"The Returnof the Heroes," CompletePoetryand Prose, pp. 488-489.
19. The canteen bears the insignia of the First Division of the Second
Corps. During the war, Homer traveled with this division (the SixtyFirst New York Volunteer regiment)as a war correspondent.For the
identification of the insignia, see Natalie Spassky, "Winslow Homer
at the Metropolitan Museum of Art."
The painting's Union associations are further strengthenedby
the wheat itself. From the beginningof the war in the popularpress,
the Confederacy was often associated with cotton while the Union
cause was symbolized by wheat (Fig. 13). For additionalexamples,

see "The Inaugurationat Richmond," Harper's Weekly,vol. 6, no.
272 (March 15, 1862), p. 176; "How JeffDavis is saving the South,"
Harper's Weekly, vol. 6, no. 277 (April 19, 1862), p. 256; and "The
Finances of the Rebellion," Harper's Weekly, vol. 6, no. 297 (September6, 1862), p. 576.
The nobility of Homer's veteran peacefully toiling in his field by
the sweat of his own brow is also seen in Lincoln's 1859Cincinnati,
Ohio, speech in which he hailedthe virtuesof the democraticyeoman:
Out of eight bushels of wheat, seven are raised by those men who
labor for themselves, aided by their boys growing to manhood,
neither being hired nor hiring,but literallylaboringupon theirown
hook, asking no favor of capital, of hired laborer,or of the slave.
(The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, Supplement 18321865, ed. Roy P. Basler [London, 1974],p. 43)
20. "The Veteran in a New Field," Frank Leslie's IllustratedNewspaper, vol. 25, no. 615 (July 13, 1867),p. 268.
21. For related examples of paired illustration, see Christmas Eve,
1862, wood engravings, Harper's Weekly,vol. 7, no. 314 (January3,
1863), pp. 8-9; New Year'sDay, North and South, wood engravings,
Harper's Weekly, vol. 8, no. 366 (January2, 1864), pp. 8- 9; Contraband News/Reliable Information, wood engravings, Harper's
Weekly, vol. 8, no. 383 (April 30, 1864),pp. 280-281; TheBlessings of
Victory: Freeing the Prisoners of War, wood engraving, and The
Blessings of Victory: The Veteran's Welcome, wood engraving,
Harper's Weekly,vol. 8, no. 404 (September24, 1864),p. 617;Thomas
Nast, "The Eve of War/The Dawn of Peace," wood engravings,
Harper's Weekly, vol. 9, no. 435 (April 29, 1865), p. 261; Palm
Sunday: Blessed Are the Peace Makers, wood engravings, Harper's
Weekly, vol. 9, no. 438 (May 20, 1865), pp. 312 - 313; Pardonl
Franchise, wood engravings, Harper's Weekly, vol. 9, no. 449 (August 5, 1865), pp. 488-489; and The Contrast of Suffering,Andersonville & Fortress Monroe, wood engravings,Harper's Weekly,vol. 10,
no. 496 (June 30, 1866),p. 409.
For a more dramatic and monumental example, see George
Inness's Peace and Plenty of 1865(The MetropolitanMuseumof Art)
which allegorically celebrates the returnof peace (see Fig. 28). At the
end of the war, Inness painted Peace and Plenty over an earlier
canvas entitled The Sign of Promise (c. 1862). By paintingover the
earlier canvas, Inness literally fulfilled the hope and promise of the
earlier work. For more on Inness's The Sign of Promise and Peace
and Plenty, see Nicolai Cikovsky, Jr., George Inness (New York,
1971), pp. 37-38.
22. John Wilmerding perceptively touches upon this theme when he
writes, "[the veteran] expends his energies and exercises his discipline on cutting down the hay instead of enemies." (Wilmerding,
Winslow Homer, p. 47.) Also see Wilmerding, "Winslow Homer's
Creative Process," p. 966.
It should also be noted that Homer's opposition of militaryand
agriculturalimages has ancient roots in western culture. For example,
in The Iliad, the ancient barduses this powerful image to describe one
of the battles between the Trojans and the Achaians, "And the men,
like two lines of reapers facing each other, drive their course all down
the field of wheat ..." (Homer, The Iliad of Homer [Chicago and
London, 1976], p. 236, lines 67-73. In Agamemnon Clytemnestra
invokes a harvest image when she pleads with her lover Aegisthus to
sheathe his sword.
Nay, enough, enough, my champion! we will
smite and slay no more.
Already have we reaped enough the harvest field of guilt:
Enough of wrong and murder, let no other blood be spilt.
(Aeschylus, Agamemnon, quoted from The Complete Greek
Drama, 2 vols. [New York: 1938],vol. I, p. 224, lines 1654- 1656.
Also see lines 535-536)
In The Georgics, Virgil uses a military and agriculturalimage to
lament the death and destruction of incessant warfare.
... where all those wars cover the world, where wickedness is so
manifold and the plough's meed of honour is gone; the fields
thicken with weeds, for the tillers are marched away and bent
sickles are forged into the stiff sword blade ...
(Virgil's Works, trans. J. W. Mackail [New York, 1950], p. 307,
lines 505-509)

In King Richard III, Shakespeare created yet another variation on
this ancient theme when he describes the necessity of war.
To reap the harvest of perpetualpeace
By this one bloody trial of sharp war.
(Act V, Scene ii, lines 15-16, King Richard III, in The Complete
Worksof William Shakespeare [London, 1958],p. 592)
In the nineteenth century, Herman Melville used the harvest/battle
image as the central theme for one of his earliest poems. In "Trophies
of Peace: Illinois in 1840"Melville compares the bounty and wealth of
the Illinois prairies to the battle trophies of ancient Greece.
Files on files of prairiemaize:
On hosts of spears the morningplays!
Aloft the rustlingstreamers show:
The gloss embrowned is rich below.
When Asia scarfed in silks came on
Against the Greek and Marathon,
Did each plume and pennon dance
Sun-lit thus on helm and lance
Mindless of War's sickel so?
For them a tasselled dance of death:
For these - the reapers reap them low,
Reap them low, and stack the plain
With Ceres' trophies, golden grain.
Such monuments, and only such,
O Prairies!termless yield,
Though trooper Mars disdainfulflout
Nor Annals fame the field.
(Herman Melville Poems [London, 1924],p. 313)
Finally, Thomas Cole incorporatedthis same theme into a proposed
series of paintings for Daniel Wadsworth. Writing in 1844, Cole
described the new series.
[These new paintingswould] be called Sowing & Reaping ... The
first would represent a rich beautiful landscape in SpringStreams - waterfalls - trees - cottages & [spanning?]the sun
a magnificent rainbow - In the foregroundas the principalfigure
should be a husbandmansowing the grain -others might be seen
engaged in the various pursuits of agricultureof the Season It
should be a fresh & vigorous landscape - full of motion In this
the Husbandman trustingto bounteous Heaven commits his seed
to the earth - The second picture would represent a field of
battle a Conqueror riding over the slain in pursuit of a defeated
enemy - Cornfields& Villages burning- everythingto express
the horrid effect of War - In this picture the Conquerortrusting
in his own strength sows his seed of ambition-The thirdpicture
would represent Reaping - The same scene as the first - but in
Harvest time - the reapers coming from the field or bringingthe
last loaded waggons into the barn - the husbandmansitting at
the door of his dwelling - under his vine & porch in the midst of
his happy family - Here the husbandmanreaps the honest fruits
of his labour ...
(The Correspondence of Thomas Cole and Daniel Wadsworth.
ed. J. Bard McNulty [Hartford,Conn., 1983],pp. 71-72)
23. An Operatic Cantata, The Haymakers, Part Two, Recorded
Anthology of American Music, Inc., 1978, p. 4. The Haymakerswas
first performed in Chicago in Januaryof 1860.My thanksto my friend
and former colleague, Dale Cockrell of the Music Departmentof The
College of William and Mary, for his many suggestions and for calling
my attention to this piece.
24. H. C. Webb, "The Two Furrows," Harper's Weekly,vol. 5. no.
240 (August 3, 1861),p. 482.
25. "After the Battle of Antietam," anonymous poem, Harper's
Weekly, vol. 7, no. 340 (July 4, 1863),p. 423.
The religious and eucharistic imagery of the "horrible bread"
and the "life blood of the slain" is also seen in A. J. H. Duganne's
poem, "Harvest and Vintage," Frank Leslie's IllustratedNewspaper,
vol. 13, no. 324 (February8, 1862),p. 186.
26. "The Graves of Gettysburg," Harper's Weekly, vol. 7, no. 349
(September 5, 1863), p. 566. Also see "At Gettysburg," anonymous
poem, Harper's Weekly, vol. 8, no. 386 (May 21, 1864),p. 322.

Likea furnaceof fireblazedthemidsummer
sun
Whento saddlewe leapedat theorder,
Spurredon by theboomof thedeep-throated
gun
Thattoldof thefoe on ourborder.
A mistin ourrear
Andthoughtsof its carnagecameo'erus;
But smilingbeforeus surgedfieldsof ripegrain,
Andwe sworenoneshouldreapit beforeus ...
At evening,returnedfromthepursuitof thefoe,
caissonwe foundhim;
By a shell-shattered
Andwe buriedhimthereinthe sunsetglow,
Withthe dearold flagknottedaroundhim.
Yet how couldwe mournwheneveryproudstrain
Toldof foemenhurledbackindisorder,
Whenwe knewthattheNorthreapedherrichestharvestgrain
Unharmedby a foe on herborder!
27. Alexander Gardner, Photographic Sketch Book of the War, 2

vols. (Washington,
as GardD.C., 1866),plate36, caption;reprinted

ner's Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War(New York, 1959).

Thephotograph
was alsoreproduced
as a woodengraving
inHarper's
Weekly,vol. 9, no. 447(July22, 1865),p. 452.
28. "TheOnlySon," anonymouspoem,Harper'sWeekly,vol.7, no.
357 (October31, 1863),p. 702. Duringthe war Lincolnwas often
criticizedfor not sendinghis sons intothe army.In a December14,
1864,editorial,a criticof thePresidentwrote:
Whyis it, we ask,thatMr.Lincoln'ssonsshouldbe keptfromthe
dangersof the field,whilethe sons of the laboringmanareto be
hurriedintothe harvestof deathat thefront?
(Editorial,Crisis [Columbus,Ohio, December14, 1864];repr.
Philadelphia Age)

For otherexamplesof the harvestof death,see "TheMowerin
Ohio,"anonymouspoem,Harper'sWeekly,vol. 8, no. 397(August
6, 1864),p. 497; "TheContrast,"anonymouspoem,FrankLeslie's
IllustratedNewspaper,vol. 18,no. 461 (July30, 1864),p. 298;Joel
Bates Swett, "War!," Frank Leslie's IllustratedNewspaper, vol. 19,

no. 498 (January28, 1865),p. 294;and "Life and Death,"anonymous,Harper'sWeekly,vol. 10,no. 508(September
22, 1866),p. 602.
Stephen Crane's TheRed Badge of Courage has been hailedas a

masterpieceof realistliterature.Throughextensiveresearch,Crane
accuratelyre-createdthe sightsand soundsof the battlefield.However, in spite of all of his effortsto insureauthenticity,Craneemployedan anachronistic
metaphorto describethedeathanddestructionof battle.
... The battlewas like the grindingof an immenseandterrible
machineto him.Its complexitiesandpowers,itsgrimprocesses,
fascinatedhim.He mustgo closeandsee it producecorpses.
(Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage [New York, 1895],

pp. 84-85)
Cranereflectedhis own urbanindustrial
ageby employinga machine
ratherthan the more appropriate
harvestmetaphor.This is all the
moreironicbecausethecentralcharacterof thenovelis a farmboy.
29. "OurUnreturningHeroes,"New-York
Daily Tribune,July21,
1865,p. 7. Theeditorialconcludes:
Unseenpillowswillbe wet,andunknownheartswillachethrough
many comingyears for the richand gatheredharvestthatwas
sowed in sufferingandsorrow.
By the fallof 1865,Homerhadalreadyexploredthe dichotomiesof
the veteran'slifein a moreexplicit,narrative
fashionin hisprintOur
Watering-Places -

TheEmpty Sleeve at Newport (see Fig. 5). Inthis

illustration,Homercreatesa disturbing
portraitof theveteranwhose
life - andbody- havebeenforeveralteredby thewar.Incontrast
to his heroicexploitson thebattlefield,
theveteranis nowsubjugated
to a new, more passive role. Homerfurtherheightensthe print's
sombermoodthroughhisjuxtaposition
of themelancholysoldierand
the beachat Newportwithallof its pleasurable
associations.
30. Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War, vol. I,

plate 11. Also see, "The Battlefieldof Bull Run," FrankLeslie's
IllustratedNewspaper,vol. 17,no. 424(November14, 1863),pp. 125
- 126;"TheFirstActsof Peace,"TheEveningPost,May1, 1865;and
"TheBattle-field
TheEveningPost,June14,1865.
ofChickamauga,"

31. Gardner's Photographic Sketch Book of the Civil War, vol. I,

plate 19. For a relatedtreatmentof this theme,see J. W. Watson,
"This is the Spot Whereon He Fell!", Frank Leslie's Illustrated

Newspaper,vol. 17,no. 421(October24, 1863),p. 74.
Thisis the spotwhereonhe fell!
I stoodhis comradeon the right;
We hadbeensideby sidebefore,
In manya fierceandfearfulfight.
Lookdownthe roadandupthehill,
Thefieldsareripewithwavinggrain,
The cattlelow, thetreesarefull,
Andbirdssingblithelyonceagain.
Andyet 'tisbuta yearago
Thesefieldsweredrenchedwithstreaming
blood;
Horsemanandhorseandblack-mouthed
gun
Wentstaggering
throughthegorymud.
Yon'wood, to-dayis gloriousgreen,
A sightto maketheheartgrowglad ...

32. New-York
DailyTribune,April20, 1863.Anothercriticdescribed
the battlefieldof Chickamauga
as "wonderfully
enrichedby thelibations of blood pouredout upon it" ("The Battle-fieldof Chickamauga,"TheEveningPost, June14, 1865).Foryet anotherexample
of this theme,see Whitman,"TheMillionDead,too, Summ'dUp,"
Complete Poetry and Collected Prose, p. 777.

33. N. G. Shepherd,"Harvestson HistoricFields,"Harper'sWeekly,
vol. 11, no. 551 (July20, 1867),p. 455. Also see Whitman,"The

Return of the Heroes," Complete Poetry and Collected Prose, pp.

489-490.

34. "TheFirstActs of Peace,"TheEveningPost, May 1, 1865.For
other examples, see the New-YorkDaily Tribune,April20, 1865
(" ... the NorthernswordsthathavegoneSouthduringthewarwill
very speedily returnthitheras Northernplowshares")and "The
Thanksgiving of 1865," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, vol.

21, no. 534,(December23, 1865).

35. Forrelatedpassages,see Isaiah42:6,58:8,10andthefollowing:
Arise,shine;forthylightis come,
andthegloryof the LORDis risenuponthee.
For, behold, the darknessshall cover the earth,and gross
darknessthe people:butthe LORDshallariseuponthee,andhis
glory shall be seen upon thee ...

(Isaiah60:1-2)
36. Forotherexamplesof thesunmetaphorsee "TheDeathBlowof

the Rebellion," Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, vol. 20, no.

449(April22, 1865),pp. 65-66:
The nationhas been nationalised;
four millionsof slaves have
been madefreemen,andthe wholeirreconcilable
elementin our
has been purgedfromourConstitution
Republicanorganization
... Wondrouschange,and yet how glorious!How brightlythe
sun shinesto-dayon a restoredandregenerated
country!
Significantly,Whitman'slengthypoem, "The Returnof the
Heroes"concludeswiththedivineandpropheticwords,"Underthe
beamingsun and underthee." Foranotherpictorialvariationon the
- A Storyof theTime"which
sun metaphor,see "Reconstruction
depictsa Unionlaboreranda Confederate
gentlemanclaspinghands
in frontof a brilliantsunrisewiththe word"FREEDOM"
etchedin
the heavens, Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, vol. 21, no. 540

of thistheme,
(February3, 1866),pp.312-313.Fora similarrendition
see George Inness's 1862paintingTheLightTriumphant.
(Foran
of thepainting,
nowlost,see Cikovsky,George
engravedreproduction
Inness, Figure22.) And finally,thereis FredericChurch'sfamous
pictorialmetaphorof the risenChristin his Cotopaxiof 1862(Detroit
Instituteof Arts).Foran excellentinterpretation
of the paintingand
its meaningin relationto the CivilWar,see DavidC. Huntington,
"Churchand Luminism:Lightfor America'sElect," in American
Light, The Luminist Movement 1850 - 1875, ed. John Wilmerding

(New York,1980),pp. 179-183.
37. Ecclesiastes2:22.Thisquestionis thecentralrhetorical
deviceof
theentirebook.
Ecclesiastes,recurring
throughout


Related documents


PDF Document veterans day 1
PDF Document celebrating veterans day
PDF Document 1594424
PDF Document what the beach did
PDF Document help us help the vets
PDF Document help us help the vets 1


Related keywords